In 1999, Nigeria won the right to host the 12th edition of the FIFA World Youth Championship. That was the year; the Flying Eagles were labeled “wobbly and awkward”. They started their World Cup campaign at home on a rather embarrassing note, with a 1-1 draw against low-rated Costa Rica with Julius Aghahowa scoring the first goal in 20 minutes of play, before resuming their performance against Germany, who they defeated. 2-0. Ganiyu Shittu and Hashimu Garba scored the goals in the 69th and 81st minutes respectively.

Their last group match was against Paraguay, and they turned the ball over to a packed crowd that had come to cheer them on for victory. The match against Paraguay ended in Paraguay’s favor 2-1 with Ganiyu Shittu scoring the consolation goal in the 38th minute of play. However, the Flying Eagles managed to qualify for the knockout stages because of the skin on their teeth.

In the round of 16, the Flying Eagles worked to secure a 1-1 draw against Ireland with the tying goal from diminutive forward Pius Ikedia in the 70th minute. The game then went to a penalty shoot-out and millions of Nigerians had the heart in the mouth for the entire duration of the shots. Eventually he got in the way of the Flying Eagles who beat 5-3. Pius Ikedia, Gbenga Okunowo, John Aranka, Eddy Dombraye and Ganiyu Shittu all converted their shots from the point. Thomas Heary of the Republic of Ireland missed his shot from point of view to set up a quarter-final match between Nigeria and Mali.

The Flying Eagles had a lot of work to do as they found the Malians too hot to handle in the quarter-final clash at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu, eastern Nigeria. The Malians were so ruthless in the quarterfinal clash that they inflicted a 3-1 loss on the hapless Eagles that they couldn’t fly when it mattered most. The Flying Eagles’ main tormentor was Mali’s enterprising midfielder Seydou Keita, who later emerged as the winner of the Adidas Ballon d’Or award.

The defeat of the hapless Flying Eagles caused quite a stir in the sporting circle, with the eventual dismissal of Dutch coach Thijs Libregts from the Nigerian Under-20 National Team coaching staff. The team had many potentials, but they could not use their full potential. Some notable players on that team include: Joseph Yobo, Rabiu Afolabi, Julius Aghahowa, Haruna Babangida and goalkeeper Sam Okoye.

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